Record Report (#12): October 19, 2006

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: MTO Volume 1 (Sunnyside): Robert Altman's film Kansas City made you want to know more about the city's jazz and less about its mobsters. The featured music stars got a package tour out of the deal before returning to contemporary postbop, but lowly associate music producer Bernstein actually put his research to work. He takes the idea of barnstorming territory bands and time travels to and from his home base in downtown New York, treating Prince and Stevie Wonder songs to 1928-style arrangements, while adding postmodern quirks to Count Basie staples. It works not because the transformations are clever, but because he's one of the few who believe that jazz can become popular again by making it fun rather without dumbing it down. The first album by a group that has been playing regularly since 1999, an incubation period that roughly matches Basie in Kansas City. A- [jazz]

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (Verve Forecast): Peddled as a soundtrack to Lian Lunson's film, actually just a Hal Wilner-produced tribute album, recorded live at festivals in Brighton and Sydney. Wilner's Monk, Mingus and Kurt Weill albums offered fresh perspectives by crossing lines -- mostly by turning rockers loose outside their genre. Here he has less to work with: Cohen's grip on his songs is more secure, and the performers are narrowly cast, with McGarrigles and Wainwrights out in force. Messages: the future is murder, and by omission I guess they've given up on democracy coming to the USA. B+ [rock]

Night in Tunisia: The Very Best of Dizzy Gillespie (1946-49, Bluebird/Legacy): Starts with three small group cuts with Milt Jackson's vibes and Al Haig's piano, laying out the principles of bebop without Charlie Parker competing with Gillespie's phenomenal trumpet. The remainder is the perfect digest of Dizzy's pathbreaking big band, including six cuts with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. A [jazz]

The Essential Ronnie Milsap (1973-88, RCA Nashville/Legacy, 2CD): A blind pianist, got his start as a Memphis r&b session musician, then moved on to Nashville, enjoying huge success as a countrypolitan crooner -- 33 #1 hits here, more after he moved on. None are memorable. Few would be identified as country in a blindfold test. B- [country]

Sam Moore: Overnight Sensation (Rhino): The survivor of '60s soul duo Sam and Dave -- Dave Prater died in 1988, but the pair split in 1970. Lately, Moore's been popping up in films, at festivals and the Grammies, culminating in the 70-year-old's first solo album. Well, not quite. This is one of those all-star duet jobs, and the pairings are peculiar: Bruce Springsteen, Fantasia, Jon Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Travis Tritt, Nikka Costa, Billy Preston, Zucchero. His voice is still strong enough to unify this album, but I guess he's fated to duets. B [r&b]

The Essential Charley Pride (1966-84, RCA Nashville/Legacy, 2CD): While white southerners strived to sound black, this black son of a Mississippi sharecropper crossed the other way. At first, RCA prefixed "Country" to his name, but that was redundant: he was as pure and basic as country music gets, his diction clear, with a twang that could telescope from mild to Hank Williams depending on the material. He leaned toward honky tonk in form, countrypolitan in manners, and would up with a dozen gold albums, three dozen #1 hits. Few are immortal, but "I'm Just Me" is sums him up perfectly. A- [country]

Sex Mob: Sexotica (Thirsty Ear): Another Steven Bernstein group, the idea being that the key to popularizing jazz is to immerse it in popular culture, and the tackier the better. A previous album perverted James Bond themesongs. This one reaches back to Martin Denny's fake exotica, but moves beyond the birdcalls into complex textures -- they call it an electro-acoustic fantasy, with the GoodAndEvil production team packing on the electro. B+ [jazz]